Gravity and Mass
The movie Gravity, which is in theaters at the moment, is about a team of astronauts whose mission goes badly wrong. No spoilers here, but seeing this film did bring some thoughts to mind, specifically about individuals and their relationships with others within the church.
In its most common usage, the word gravity means the attraction between two objects. Of course, the largest object we encounter is the Earth, which holds onto us because of gravity. In turn, it’s gravity that gives us weight. On one hand, it drags us down and makes it hard to run and jump and hard to lift things up off the ground. On the other hand, without it we would have no way to anchor ourselves to any place and nothing to orient ourselves around. Gravity gives us a physical center to our lives and, as the characters in the movie learned, the lack of it leaves us adrift, with nothing to hold on to or push off from. Without help, such a person can do nothing. So it is for a lone person.
In Matthew 18, Jesus talks about the relationship between people, saying in verse 15: â€œIf your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.”
So we see what we are to do when conflict arises within our family, be it your biological family or your church family – we are to bring the two together, my brother and I, and seek to resolve the issue so that we may be together.
Now, humans being what they are, this does not always work. Jesus goes on to say, “16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.”
Again we are told to come together, this time with more a larger mass of brothers, to bring our brother back into fellowship with us. We want to attract him – or her, mind you – back into togetherness with us and the more gravity – and the more love – we bring to the situation, the better.
And yet, this may still be insufficient, if our brother or sister chooses to be obstinate. In verse 17, Jesus says, “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector”, meaning, he or she has chosen not to be a brother or sister to you but to go his or her own way, in which case we are to release the person from our mass, according to their own will, and let go.
Jesus spoke about this in a different way when he was sending the apostles out on an early mission trip. In Luke 9:5, he says, “If the people of the village won’t receive your message when you enter it, shake off its dust from your feet as you leave. It is a sign that you have abandoned that village to its fate.”
Abandoned to its fate. Harsh words and hard to accept. How difficult it is to apply them to our brothers and sisters. And how final. Returning the Matthew, Jesus continues by defining that finality: “18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
If we draw our loved ones to us on Earth then it shall be so in heaven. But if we do nor or cannot, how permanent that failure can be.
I’ve used a small word a couple of times in the last few minutes, a word that is rather interesting if we consider it closely. That word is mass. Used one way, it can express a measurement of weight that’s independent of gravity. Used another, it means a group of people or things. Considering both of these definitions, the Catholic term Mass accurately describes a Christian worship service. Do we not gather together to worship God, whose truth is independent of perspective?
Skipping ahead just slightly, Jesus tells us one more thing about establishing our brotherhood: “20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” When we gather together, Christ will come to us. Not only that, our gathering together will make easier to attract more people to us. Gravity is a chain reaction: The more mass that’s brought together, the more it will attract. Conversely, when we lose mass in our church, the more we tend to continue to lose.
Of course, there’s a 2nd meaning to the word gravity, as in the air of seriousness that a person carries about. At times, our personal gravity can be an almost physical weight that we carry around and it can weigh us down.
As you can tell from their carefree natures, children are burdened by less of this personal gravity than adults. So there is a temptation to leap to the conclusion that this is what Jesus meant at the beginning of Matthew 18 when he said, “3 …Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Is this the correct interpretation? I do not think so. As I understand this passage, Jesus was referring to the simplicity of a child’s faith in parents, love, and God, and not to children’s casual lack of concern for everything but him/herself.
This is demonstrated in the next verse: “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Clearly Jesus is not referring to the complete self-centeredness of children, but rather to their easy acceptance of God as the Creator and Father of the world. That is why we should not take on the Peter Pan-like behavior of adults who never grew up, but rather the easy faith of the young.
Likewise, we should not overburden ourselves with personal gravity as Solomon did. His despair of his own inadequacies caused him to write in Ecclesiastes: “16 I said to myself, ‘Look, I have increased in wisdom more than anyone who has ruled over Jerusalem before me; I have experienced much of wisdom and knowledge.’ 17 Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom, and also of madness and folly, but I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind. 18 For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief.”
Rather than modeling ego mania of children or the cynicism of Solomon, I would suggest that we acknowledge and accept the burdens of life and face them directly. Not as a simplistic, foolish child and not as a cynical, burned out intellectual, but with the perspective of a son or daughter of the One who has promised to draw us to Him in the fullness of time and for all time.
Let us pray.